By Aisha Stacey
Diet and Nutrition Part 1
Islam is a code of life. Muslims do not practice only during the weekends or festive seasons; rather religion is an ongoing part of daily life. Islam is organized in a spiritual and moral way, taking into account humankind’s innate needs and desires. The tenets of Islam are derived from the Qur’an and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad, known as the Sunnah, these two sources of revelation are a guide, or a manual for life.
Although, it may, at first, seem like a rather strange analogy; let us compare Islam’s life instructions with the manual that comes with a computer. Imagine buying a new laptop without ever having seen any of the technological advances of the last several decades. Would you know where the on/off button was? If you managed to turn the computer on would you know how to look after it, do a system restore, run an anti-virus scan, or generally maintain it? Without a manual, the computer would be not much more than a useless piece of technology.
The computer’s designers also designed a manual or guide, knowing that without specific instructions the computer would not be put to the best possible use or do what it was designed to do. Technology usually comes with guarantees and warranties that become useless, unless you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Therefore because we want to get the best possible use from our expensive technology we read the manuals and follow the guidelines.
Islam also offers a specific set of instructions that come with a guarantee, a promise of eternal Paradise. There is no ‘use by’ date on this guarantee and it allows unlimited extensions. If you make a mistake or ‘click’ the wrong button the instructions clearly advise you how to make amends and restore normality. God designed and created humankind for the specific purpose of worshipping Him and sent Prophets and Messengers with specific guidance to make our task easy. However, without God’s guide to life, humankind can become lost and adrift in a world that does not make a lot of sense or offer any real security and contentment. Lives are lived without purpose or meaning and many people eek out an existence that provides little or no real sense of having a life worth living.
The traditions of Prophet Muhammad teach us to cherish good health and realize its true value as one of God’s countless bounties.
“And when your Lord proclaimed, “If you give thanks, I will give you more; but if you are thankless, lo! My punishment is dire.” (Ibrahim 14:7)
Islam’s holistic approach to health includes treating our bodies with respect and nourishing them with, not only faith, but also with lawful, nutritious food. A major part of living life according to the Creator’s instructions is implementing a suitable diet. Choosing wholesome food and avoiding the unwholesome is essential to good health. God says in the Qur’an,
“Eat of the good things which We have provided for you.” (Al-Baqarah 2:172)
“Eat of what is lawful and wholesome on the earth.” (Al-Baqarah 2:168)
The Qur’an contains many verses of advice about healthy eating that relate to the interconnectedness of physical and spiritual health. Encouragement to eat only good and pure food is often combined with warnings to remember God and avoid Satan. Healthy eating not only satisfies hunger but also has an effect on how well we worship.
“O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.” (Al-Baqarah 2:168)
If one becomes obsessed with food or indulges in too much unwholesome or junk food he or she may become physically weak or distracted from his primary purpose of serving God. On the other hand, if one concentrated exclusively on spiritual endeavors and neglected their health and nutrition, weakness injury or illness would also result in failure to carry out obligatory worship. The guidance found in the Qur’an and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad advise humankind to maintain a balance between these two extremes.
A healthy diet is balanced with a mixture of all the foods God has provided for His creation. The variety satisfies all the body’s needs for carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, proteins, fats and amino acids. Numerous verses of Qur’an mention the foods God has provided for us to nourish and maintain our bodies. It is not an exhaustive list of dietary requirements but rather a general idea of the types of food that maintain a healthy body and prevent illness.
“He created cattle that give you warmth, benefits and food to eat.” (An-Nahl l6:5)
“It is He who subdued the seas, from which you eat fresh fish.” (An-Nahl 16:l4)
“It is He who sends down water from the sky with which He brings up corn, olives, dates and grapes and other fruit.” (An-Nahl 16:11)
“In cattle too you have a worthy lesson. We give you to drink of that which is in their bellies, between the undigested food and blood: pure milk, a pleasant beverage for those who drink it.” (An-Nahl l6:66)
“There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colors, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought.” (An-Nahl 16:69)
“And it is He Who produces gardens trellised and untrellised, and date palms, and crops of different shape and taste (its fruits and its seeds) and olives, and pomegranates, similar (in kind) and different (in taste). Eat of their fruit when they ripen…” (An-Nahl 6:141)
“…and from it (the earth) we produced grain for their sustenance.” (Ya-Sin 36:33)
God has also provided us with a list of foods that are forbidden and apart from these everything else is considered lawful.
“Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead animals – cattle-beast not slaughtered, blood, the flesh of swine, and the meat of that which has been slaughtered as a sacrifice for other than God…” (Al-Ma’idah 5:3) “…and intoxicants.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:91-92)
While sweets and junk food are not forbidden they must be eaten sparingly as part of a balanced diet, designed to maintain optimum health. Many of the most common chronic illnesses today derive from unhealthy eating habits. Coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and depression have all been linked to inadequate diets. The traditions of Prophet Muhammad praise moderation as a way of maintaining good health and the Qur’an stresses the need to strike a balance between any extremes.
True believers need healthy bodies and minds in order to worship God in the correct way. To maintain a sound mind, a pure heart and a healthy body special attention must be paid to health. The heart and the mind are nourished by remembrance of God, and worship performed in a lawful way, and the body is nourished by partaking of the good and lawful food God has provided. Attention to diet and nutrition is a part of the holistic health system inherent in Islam.
Fitness and Exercise
Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said a strong believer was better than a weak believer. He was talking in terms of faith and character but also indicating that physical strength i.e. optimum health and fitness were desirable, providing God gave us the ways and means of attaining such strength. Islam’s holistic approach to life and thus health offers us the ability to remain strong and healthy. If God decrees that illness or injury are to be part of our lives then Islam provides us with the ways and means of accepting and even being grateful for the tests and trials that envelope us.
This article, the final in a four part series on Islam’s holistic approach to health, will examine what Islam, Prophet Muhammad, and the scholars of Islam have mentioned about fitness and exercise. In a separate series of articles, we will look at how Islam suggests we behave when struck by illness or injury.
Believers in Islam must take care of their spiritual, emotional and physical health. Our bodies, the most complex of machines, are given to us by God as a trust. They should not be abused or neglected but maintained in good order. As previously discussed, diet and nutrition play a big part in maintaining the best possible health, so does a lifestyle incorporating exercise. Islam lays emphasis on a simple diet combined with physical exercise.
Fulfilling the obligations of three of the five pillars of Islam requires that Muslims be of sound health and fitness. The daily performance of five prayers is in itself a form of exercise, its prescribed movements involve all the muscles and joints of the body, and concentration in prayer relieves mental stress. Good health is necessary if one intends to fast the month of Ramadan and the performance of the Hajj (or pilgrimage to Mecca) is an arduous task that requires many days of hard physical effort.
Prophet Muhammad advised his followers, to work, to be energetic, and to start their day early, all of which are conditions for a healthy body. He said “O God, make the early morning hours blessed for my nation.”  Obesity or an inadequate diet, laziness and weakness are all afflictions for which we will be called to account. Even though preventing illness or injury is often out of our control, there are many conditions brought on or made worse by our own lack of attention to diet and fitness. Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said, “Any action without the remembrance of God is either a diversion or heedlessness excepting four acts: Walking from target to target [during archery practice], training a horse, playing with one’s family, and learning to swim.”
The Prophet Muhammad and his Companions were naturally physically fit. Life was tougher, long distances were covered on foot, men hunted and farmed their food to survive, and there were no useless recreations to produce laziness and waste many hours of otherwise constructive time. The 21st century contains many distractions and forms of entertainment that encourage laziness and induce ill health.
Although advanced technology has many benefits, it is important that time is not wasted in front of the television screen or game console to the detriment of our health. It has been conclusively proven that obesity in children increases the more hours they watch television. Other studies have indicated that this is equally true for adults. Exercise on the other hand has many benefits.
Exercise increases muscle tone, improves flexibility, enhances endurance, strengthens the heart and fights depression. Exercise also helps achieve significant weight loss. Aerobic exercise fights heart disease and high blood pressure, and reduces the risk of diabetes, while weight training increases muscle strength and reduces fat, increases bone density, fights back pain and arthritis, and improves overall mental health.
Respected Islamic scholar Imam Ibn al-Qayyem stated that movement helped the body get rid of waste food in a very normal way and strengthened the body’s immune system. He also stated that each bodily organ has its own sport (or movement) that suited it and that horse riding, archery, wrestling and racing, were sports that benefitted the whole body.
Exercise and fitness play an integral part in the life of a Muslim, however it should not come at the expense of religious obligations, nor should it infringe upon the time spent with family members. In accordance with the holistic approach to life, which is Islam, everything must be done in moderation. There is no allowance for extreme or fanatical behavior. Letting an exercise regime or a sport take over your life is against the teachings of Islam that call for a middle path and a balanced approach. Exercise and fitness should also not involve unnecessary mixing of the sexes or wearing clothing that exposes the parts of the body that should be kept hidden.
Islam encourages anything that promotes refreshing the mind or revitalizing the body provided it does not lead to or involve sin, cause harm, or hamper or delay religious obligations. The traditions of Prophet Muhammad undoubtedly encourage involvement in sporting activities as a way to promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage brotherly love and family togetherness.
In a narration recorded by Imam Bukhari (a scholar who compiled Prophetic Traditions) it states that “The Prophet passed by some people from the tribe of Aslam while they were competing in archery (in the market). He said to them, ‘Shoot children of Ishmael (Prophet) your father was a skilled marksman. Shoot and I am with so and so.’ One of the two teams therein stopped shooting. The Prophet asked, ‘why do not you shoot?’ They answered, ‘How could we shoot while you are with them (the other team). He then said, ‘Shoot and I am with you all.” In another tradition Prophet Muhammad’s beloved wife Aisha mentions their love of games and sports. She said, “I raced with the Prophet and I beat him. Later when I had put on some weight, we raced again and he won. Then he said, ‘this cancels that (referring to the previous race).’”
A true believer recognizes the wonder of the human body and is grateful to the Creator. This gratitude is shown in the care and attention given to maintaining optimum health. Islam’s holistic approach to health covers all aspects of the mind, body and soul. A truly health conscious person blends diet, nutrition and exercise with the remembrance of God and an intention to fulfill all their religious obligations.
 Saheeh Muslim
 Imam Ahmad
 At Tabarani
 These results were reported in a study by researchers from the University at Buffalo, Johns Hopkins University, The National Cancer Institute, and the Centers for Disease Control and reported in Crespo, Carlos J. Dr. PH, MS; Smit, Ellen, PhD; Troiano, Richard P., PhD, RD; Bartlett, Susan J., PhD; Macera, Caroline A., PhD; Andersen, Ross E., PhD (2001, March 15). Television watching, energy intake and obesity in US children. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 155, 360-365.
 Saheeh Al-Bukhari
Taken with slight editorial modifications from www.IslamReligion.com.
Aisha Stacey is an Australian revert to Islam. She currently spends her time between Australia and Qatar. Aisha works as a writer at the Fanar Cultural Islamic Centre in Doha, Qatar while studying for an Arts/Psychology degree.